Wednesday, February 1, 2012

PLEASE NOTE OUR NEW BLOG ADDRESS

http://www.highconflictinstitute.com/blog/

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Splitting America – Part 2: Left and Right Brain Conflict Resolution


In the previous blog, I wrote about the dynamic of “splitting” – the tendency for some people to see others as all-good or all-bad, and the contagious nature of this highly intense emotional process. This seems to have entered our political process with today’s attack ads. They may seriously split America, unless we realize how this works.

Brain research may help explain this process. It appears that we have two basic systems of conflict resolution associated with the right and left hemispheres of our brains. (This dynamic is a different issue from political right and left.) The left brain is where written and spoken word content is mostly processed. Most of the time, researchers say that our left hemisphere is dominant, looking at problem-solving in a logical, detailed manner that is generally associated with mildly positive emotions, such as calmness, contentment and a sense of safety. This is where we tend to store and reflect on specific detailed solutions to previous problems, which helps in planning logical and detailed solutions to new problems.

Our right brain tends to take over when we are in a crisis or face a totally new situation. The right brain tends to respond much more quickly, in a defensive and protective manner – which also shuts down our higher thinking so that we can focus on fight, flight or freeze responses. Such an approach helps save our lives when facing an immediate, life or death problem.  This defensive response includes splitting: fast all-or-nothing thinking, intensely negative emotional responses and extreme behaviors (running away, violently attacking or trying to hide). The right brain unconsciously and constantly pays great attention to people’s tone of voice and facial expressions, which are highly contagious during a crisis. Before you realize it, you may start reacting to a situation like those around you (running, fighting), in an effort to strongly defend through group strength. This group defense mechanism (contagious emotions) has saved humans for thousands of years. It’s like emotional Wi-Fi.

Anthropologists believe that modern human beings and our modern human brains have been around for approximately 150,000 years. About 50,000 years ago our vocal chords moved up in our throats, so that we developed the ability for speech and modern verbal language, rather than just grunts and shouts. About 10,000 years ago we moved from primarily being hunter-gatherers to an agrarian culture as farmers. This provided the potential to form much larger communities in stable locations. Then, about 5,000 years ago we developed written language.

This means that for most of our existence on earth we have had a social brain that helped us work together to solve problems, based on emotional Wi-Fi – without the benefit of research and historical analysis of political behavior. For most of our human history and brain development, we have been attracted to leaders based on non-verbal behavior, such as charm, strength, speed, aggression, dominance, and the ability to appear confident and clever. These characteristics are recognized by our right brains – our experts on non-verbal behavior. However, these characteristics can be easily manipulated out of context.

Our left brains have the ability to get the context – to gather a wide range of written information about candidates. We can read history, read about political candidate’s full backgrounds of behavior, and predict much more accurately which candidate will meet our goals in the long-run. Yet, if we don’t understand our right-brain tendency to follow leaders based on appearances of strength, charm and wit, we will resort to electing leaders simply because they are good at grabbing our attention.

Today’s political world of attack ads encourages splitting: simple, emotional, all-or-nothing views of complex problems, by identifying “all-bad” individuals and groups – and attacking them. Human history is filled with this simple mistake. Let’s not let it happen again, now that we are aware of its dynamics.

(The last blog in this 3-part series focuses on the power of modern media in promoting splitting.)

High Conflict Institute provides training and consultations, as well and books, DVDs and CDs regarding dealing with High Conflict People (HCPs) in legal, workplace, educational, and healthcare disputes. Bill Eddy is the President of the High Conflict Institute and the author ofIt's All Your Fault!, Splitting, BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Hostile Emails, Personal Attacks and Social Media Meltdowns and Don't Alienate the Kids!. He is an author, attorney, mediator, and therapist. Bill has presented seminars to attorneys, judges, mediators, ombudspersons, human resource professionals, employee assistance professionals, managers, and administrators in 25 states, several provinces in Canada, France, Sweden, and Australia. For more information about High Conflict Institute, our seminars and consultations, Bill Eddy or to purchase a book, CD or DVD, visit: http://www.HighConflictInstitute.com

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Revision: Request for High-Conflict Workplace Examples

We're seeking case examples of high-conflict people and behavior at work, including customers, employees and bosses, for a new book I’m writing. It would help to know specific behavior and patterns of behavior they demonstrated, and how they were handled (or not) and how things turned out – disasters and success stories. A page or two is sufficient, with identifying information disguised. You can even do this anonymously, as I am looking for general examples to use in demonstrating a management method, not looking for exact information. Thanks! Bill

Submit your case studies to: info@highconflictinstitute.com

Splitting America - the new contagion in American politics


The concept of “splitting” in relationships has been studied for decades, especially when borderline or narcissistic personality disorders are involved. Splitting occurs when a person views others as either all-good or all-bad, with no grey areas and with an emotional intensity that is contagious – but uninformed. Others come to believe that a certain person really is all-good or all-bad. Splitting is an unconscious process for those with personality disorders and its contagious nature is generally an unconscious process, unless you know to watch out for it.

Splitting is a common dynamic in many high-conflict child custody disputes in family courts. Randi Kreger and I described this dynamic in our recent book: SPLITTING: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

It also is a dynamic in hospital and substance abuse treatment programs, commonly known as “staff splitting,” when there is a patient in the program with a personality disorder. That patient tells other patients and staff that one employee has acted extremely badly and another has been extremely wonderful. Unless staff recognize when splitting is occurring and how unconsciously contagious it is, they start hating each other and viewing each other as all-good or all-bad. They totally disagree over their treatment of that patient, seeing her or him as a total victim or as totally to blame for their own problems. Rumors start flying and bitterness escalates. I have consulted with organizations where this was occurring, and once they learn about the splitting dynamic, they usually become immune to it and are able to work together well again – although occasionally some workgroups become split beyond repair. 

The current election climate and attack ads remind me of this splitting process, in that candidates are describing each other in terms of being all-good (themselves) or all-bad (various other candidates), with no grey areas and with an emotional intensity that is contagious. Recent attack ads seem to run along these lines and we will see a lot more before November. Uninformed voters who are not aware of this dynamic will become convinced that the target of the split (the attack ad’s target) is crazy, stupid, immoral or evil. An Op-Ed piece in USA Today on Monday was even titled: “Why U.S. Politics Divides into Good and Evil.” Splitting is an intensely emotional experience, without room for rational analysis or discussion, and can occur in a mob-like manner that supersedes any quest for information.

I doubt that any of the candidates has a borderline or narcissistic personality disorder, since a personality disorder is a long-term pattern of interpersonal dysfunction and internal distress. However, politics is an area that is known to attract people with narcissistic traits and people with these traits can often succeed for a while in their work, even though their close personal relationships usually are marked by chronic difficulty.

In their book, The Narcissism Epidemic, authors Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell, explain that narcissists often are chosen as appealing leaders in groups, until the group gets to know them. They see themselves as leaders with outstanding skills – and the group believes that at first as well. But then, their leadership role is short-lived, as group members catch on to their serious deficits and no longer see them as leaders. In fact, the research on leaders in business shows that the narcissists demonstrate more volatile leadership, which hurts the stability of the company over the long run – and stability is what really adds value to the business. The less narcissistic leaders did the best, according to Twenge and Campbell. The narcissists’ overconfidence eventually ruined them. While they continued to see themselves as superior, their peers saw them as inferior as leaders – and threw them out when they could. 

Keep this in mind as the elections and attack ads progress. Narcissists and borderlines can’t help themselves, but reasonable people can stop the splitting of America by becoming aware and explaining this dynamic to others.

(This is the first part of a 3-part blog. The next one focuses on brain research which may help explain about why we are so vulnerable to “splitting.” The last part will focus on the role of the today’s changing media in increasing splitting in society.)

High Conflict Institute provides training and consultations, as well and books, DVDs and CDs regarding dealing with High Conflict People (HCPs) in legal, workplace, educational, and healthcare disputes. Bill Eddy is the President of the High Conflict Institute and the author ofIt's All Your Fault!, Splitting, BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Hostile Emails, Personal Attacks and Social Media Meltdowns and Don't Alienate the Kids!. He is an author, attorney, mediator, and therapist. Bill has presented seminars to attorneys, judges, mediators, ombudspersons, human resource professionals, employee assistance professionals, managers, and administrators in 25 states, several provinces in Canada, France, Sweden, and Australia. For more information about High Conflict Institute, our seminars and consultations, Bill Eddy or to purchase a book, CD or DVD, visit: http://www.HighConflictInstitute.com

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Marriage is Declining: Part II


I was very appreciative of the feedback on my blog last week (1-12-12) about marriage rates declining. The responses triggered a look into more research statistics and some more thoughts for family professionals. Here’s some results:

Remarriage rates: I don’t know if this has changed since 2004, but a U.S. Census report showed that the remarriage rate for men 25 and older who were divorced was about 52% and for women was about 44%. This study indicates that men remarry sooner than women (not a surprise).  (www.remarriage.com)

The speed of remarriage: An interesting article in Newsweek a couple years ago reported that American kids experience their parents’ divorce, new relationships and re-marriage faster than kids in other countries, such as Sweden – which has a higher cohabitation rate. This was surprising, but they found that 40% of U. S. children in two-parent families (married or not) experienced their parents splitting up by age 15, whereas 30% of Swedish children experience a parental breakup by age 15. Then, new partners move into the child’s household within three years of the divorce at a 47% higher rate than in Sweden. (www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2009/08/14/americans-marry-too-much.html)

Since I was in Sweden last year, I would agree that there seemed to be less marriage but more stability of relationships. While I taught social workers who were providing divorce mediation services about dealing with high-conflict personalities, their level of conflict was reportedly less and I was told that only about 7% of families use court hearings to make their divorce decisions, whereas over 20% do in the U.S.

Incomes of cohabiting couples: One of the comments last week from Australia was that many couples are living in stable cohabitation relationships there, so that their incomes may be similar to married couples, rather than much poorer (which I had implied in my blog). I couldn’t readily find credible statistics on that, although several sources indicate that cohabiting couples in the U.S. have less income than married couples (although they have more income than single parent families). One reason for this may be that cohabiting couples want to get married, but feel they can’t afford it. (http://www.unmarried.org/cohabitation-f.a.q.html)

Some Thoughts: I generally believe that living as a single, cohabiting or married person does not make much difference for adults – the important factor is the quality of one’s relationships, whether with friends, lovers or spouses. However, these recent marriage statistics concern me in the long-term sense for society and child-rearing. They reflect instability of relationships, especially of parenting relationships, and a decrease in relationship skills concurrent with an increase in individualism. And “family instability” seems to be a factor in the increase in personality disorders. (Disorders of Personality: DSM-IV and Beyond, Millon, 1996)

There needs to be an increase in teaching and reinforcing conflict resolution, communication and negotiation skills. People shouldn’t get married because they are “supposed to.” They should get married because they are two people (of any sex) who have the skills for a committed relationship and because it satisfies them more. As a society, we need to provide more support for such skills and satisfaction, rather than endorsing an extreme “do your own thing” philosophy (which reinforces narcissism) or a guilt trip (which reinforces unhappy marriages). It doesn’t need to be “me versus us.” It can be “me AND us.”

High Conflict Institute provides training and consultations, as well and books, DVDs and CDs regarding dealing with High Conflict People (HCPs) in legal, workplace, educational, and healthcare disputes. Bill Eddy is the President of the High Conflict Institute and the author ofIt's All Your Fault!, Splitting, BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Hostile Emails, Personal Attacks and Social Media Meltdowns and Don't Alienate the Kids!. He is an author, attorney, mediator, and therapist. Bill has presented seminars to attorneys, judges, mediators, ombudspersons, human resource professionals, employee assistance professionals, managers, and administrators in 25 states, several provinces in Canada, France, Sweden, and Australia. For more information about High Conflict Institute, our seminars and consultations, Bill Eddy or to purchase a book, CD or DVD, visit: http://www.HighConflictInstitute.com

B.I.F.F.s for Business and Professions

By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.

Businesses today have many opportunities to deal with HCPs as customers, suppliers, contractors, partners and in negotiations over future business relationships. Professionals face similar situations, as they often operate as small businesses and deal with HCPs on a regular basis.

All businesses and professions create expectations, but the expectations of HCPs are often very unrealistic. This can lead to angry outbursts, customer relations complaints, consumer affairs complaints, licensing board complaints, rumors among colleagues, bad publicity and lawsuits. B.I.F.F.s can help you manage risks and reduce the distraction of draining emotional issues of HCPs.
The goal isn’t to avoid all HCPs in business and professional work – you can’t ever succeed at that (see Chapter One) because HCPs are usually not obvious at the beginning. Instead, the goal is to contain the emotional challenges and stay focused on the services that you want to provide. When handled correctly, most HCPs can be satisfied customers, productive employees and even sources of future work.

This chapter will include B.I.F.F.s for a high-conflict client and a high-conflict business partner.

A Disgruntled Client
For many years, divorce mediation has been a significant part of my work as a lawyer and social worker. After almost thirty years, I received a letter with the following general message (it is not the exact letter, as mediation is confidential). 
Dear Sir:
You met with us on Sept. 9th for our divorce mediation and we scheduled another meeting for Oct. 15th. We are now cancelling that meeting, because both my wife and I (and my attorney) believe that you did not handle our mediation properly. You allowed many criticizing and blaming comments to be made and we accomplished nothing. I paid for the mediation and I would like my money back. Please respond promptly. We have found another mediator who does it correctly.
                                          Sincerely, Disgruntled Client

I remembered this case, as this client came late, took two phone calls on his cell phone during our meeting and left early. He made several blaming comments toward his wife, did not take responsibility for solving problems and yet interpreted her as being unreasonable. This is not unusual for a first session in mediation and I expected to slowly get him to solve problems over the next 3-4 sessions. So I was surprised. However, after I got over my surprise and anger at this letter, I sent the following B.I.F.F. response:
Dear Client,
Thank you for your letter expressing your concerns about our mediation session. After doing nearly 1000 divorce mediation cases and teaching a course in mediation at two law schools, I have learned that people have different styles of providing mediation services. I am glad that you have found a mediator that fits you. Best wishes in completing your divorce.
                                            Sincerely,
                           Mr. Mediator
I never heard from him again. You may wonder why I didn’t tell him directly that I wouldn’t refund his money. I believe that I performed my services totally satisfactorily and that he acted inappropriately. There was nothing that I needed to apologize for and I think this letter makes it clear that I did not believe that I did anything wrong. I didn’t want to make him think about a refund any further, as raising the issue and then rejecting it was more likely to influence him negatively than just telling him that I’m very experienced, that mediators have different styles and that I wish him well. This was the least likely approach to increase his defensiveness, and it appears to have helped him let go.

High Conflict Institute provides training and consultations, as well and books, DVDs and CDs regarding dealing with High Conflict People (HCPs) in legal, workplace, educational, and healthcare disputes. Bill Eddy is the President of the High Conflict Institute and the author ofIt's All Your Fault!, Splitting, BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Hostile Emails, Personal Attacks and Social Media Meltdowns and Don't Alienate the Kids!. He is an author, attorney, mediator, and therapist. Bill has presented seminars to attorneys, judges, mediators, ombudspersons, human resource professionals, employee assistance professionals, managers, and administrators in 25 states, several provinces in Canada, France, Sweden, and Australia. For more information about High Conflict Institute, our seminars and consultations, Bill Eddy or to purchase a book, CD or DVD, visit: http://www.HighConflictInstitute.com

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Send “BIFF” to Washington!


Yesterday, Jon Huntsman declared he would stop campaigning for President. Too bad, he seemed like a reasonable person, by and large. I couldn’t agree more with his comment on the way out: “This race has degenerated into an onslaught of negative and personal attacks not worthy of the American people and not worthy of this critical time.” (Several news sources) Of course, he threw in a few of his own attacks during his months in the campaign.

This year is expected to sink to the lowest depths of negative ads and hostile political speech in recent history. I think the U.S. public wants civility, but is fascinated by disdain and disrespect. If we were to turn off the news or refuse to vote for individuals who communicate this way it would immediately stop. But the opposite seems to be happening. People are eager to hear what politicians say about each other – the worst seems to get the most attention and Jon Huntsman couldn’t get attention by mostly being reasonable.

I think there should be a candidate out there who gets attention by using BIFF responses. These are statements that are Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm.  This could fit well in the age of Twitter. A political BIFF could go like this: “I respect my opponent’s sincere efforts to solve this problem. He/she has suggested that we do ABC. But this idea has been studied and tried on several occasions in the United States and in other countries, and this idea failed repeatedly. Instead, we need to do XYZ. This isn’t about bad people or who’s smart or who cares. It’s about what works and what doesn’t work. Thank you.” 

Can you imagine certain candidates saying such a thing? Well, I would actually encourage them to do so. Some candidates say that they are not going to “go negative,” but then they still do – to the extreme. I think we need a candidate who can stay positive and encourage others to do so.

If you want to get attention without going negative, just avoid making it a personal attack. For example, don’t use the other person’s name - let the debates be about ideas. When the media pays more attention to the extreme disdainful remarks of others, have a sense of humor about it. Point out how being positive and talking about issues gets ignored. Blast the dynamics of superficiality, rather than specific people. Everywhere you go, point out that you refuse to make it personal. You can totally disagree with the ideas that are presented, and explain why your ideas make more sense. Point out that when some politicians compare others to Hitler or Stalin or the “worst ever _________ (you fill in the blank),” that this is a gross manipulation of the defensive side of the brain, which shuts down logical thought in favor of “fight or flight” responses. This manipulation should be obvious by now and has nothing to do with the issues. But don’t make it personal back. Be above all of that. Re-focus to the real issue and keep it simple.

People really do want to understand the issues and vote on them. I don’t understand the economy. I don’t know where jobs come from. Can someone really start explaining that, instead of saying it’s all Obama’s fault (reducing the complex issues of healthcare to “Obamacare” makes it personal and tells me nothing) or that Romney has nothing to offer because “he likes to fire people” (so personal and out of context it’s useless). These attacks really shut down logical thinking. Let’s talk about substance and policies. I find it ironic that it took young people in the streets to teach us about the 1% and the 99%. And that I learned how SuperPacs work from 10 minutes on a fake news show on Comedy Central.

See, you can be Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm. If anyone wants to send a copy of my little BIFF book to Washington, let me know.


High Conflict Institute provides training and consultations, as well and books, DVDs and CDs regarding dealing with High Conflict People (HCPs) in legal, workplace, educational, and healthcare disputes. Bill Eddy is the President of the High Conflict Institute and the author ofIt's All Your Fault!, Splitting, BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Hostile Emails, Personal Attacks and Social Media Meltdowns and Don't Alienate the Kids!. He is an author, attorney, mediator, and therapist. Bill has presented seminars to attorneys, judges, mediators, ombudspersons, human resource professionals, employee assistance professionals, managers, and administrators in 25 states, several provinces in Canada, France, Sweden, and Australia. For more information about High Conflict Institute, our seminars and consultations, Bill Eddy or to purchase a book, CD or DVD, visit: http://www.HighConflictInstitute.com